DC Digest – May 12, 2014

In Today’s Issue

  • This Week in Washington
  • House Appropriations Committee Approves FY15 CJS Bill
  • Senate Judiciary Again Postpones Markup of Patent Legislation
  • Duke Faculty Member Testifies on Venezuela Before Senate Foreign Relations Committee
  • Senate Confirms Ted Mitchell as Top US Higher Ed Official

Infrastructure: Senate Environment and Public Works Committee leaders on Monday unveiled a draft highway bill that would maintain federal aid programs at current levels plus inflation for the next six years. Senators will also be looking to head off low levels in the Highway Trust Fund, which could happen around July 20. Meanwhile, the Vice President will be in Cleveland on Wednesday to highlight infrastructure investments at the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority Rail Complex.

Immigration:  House Speaker John Boehner said at a San Antonio luncheon on Monday that he has an idea of what immigration reform in the House will look like (“in chunks” rather than comprehensive reform). President Obama responded on Tuesday, cautioning that House Republicans have only a couple of months to start acting on an immigration overhaul before midterm election politics will make action difficult.

Obamacare: As soon as this week, the White House could issue a regulation that settles unanswered questions about the health care law’s online insurance marketplaces, including what the health plans central to the law’s success can expect to be paid.

Read More:
Biden to make Cleveland appearance next Wednesday (wkyc.com)
Highway Funding Faces Bumpy Road (wsjonline.com)
GOP goes quiet on Obamacare (thehill.com)
When will Boehner turn to immigration reform? (thehill.com)
Obama: 2-3 Months on Immigration Reform (politico.com)

The House Appropriations Committee on May 7 approved the FY15 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) bill, as well as its allocation of discretionary spending among the panel’s 12 subcommittees (the 302(b) allocations).

While funding in the overall CJS bill is one percent below the FY14 level, the measure would increase funding for both the National Science Foundation (NSF) and NASA. In addition, the committee report that accompanies the bill states that “any increases [for NSF] provided above the request and not otherwise specified in [this report] shall be applied to math and physical sciences; computer and information science and engineering; engineering; and biological sciences.”

Counting the $5 million committee reduction, the bill would provide about $7.4 billion for the agency overall, an increase of $232 million, or about 3.2 percent, over the FY14 enacted level. Within that total, the bill includes $5.93 billion for Research and Related Activities, an increase of $165 million, or 2.8 percent; $876 million for Education and Human Resources, an increase of $31 million, or 3.5 percent; and $200 million for Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction, which is level funding.

In addition to the language mentioned above, the committee report addresses several issues with respect to NSF:

· The report includes $21 million for research related to the BRAIN initiative and cognitive sciences and neurosciences.

· The report recommends that NSF continue its work on the “replication of scientific research,” and that the agency support research on practices that improve research methods, increase research transparency, and allow for increased scientific replicability.

· The committee recognizes the importance of, and NSF’s reliance on, employees hired through the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA). But the report also says, “NSF should be able to better control these costs through more aggressive negotiations with IPA employees’ home institutions, the imposition of cost sharing requirements and other means. To incentivize NSF to continue pursuing these cost savings opportunities, the recommendation permits NSF to continue hiring IPAs but does not provide the requested increases for IPA compensation, per diem, lost consultant fees and travel.”

· The report notes that some have raised concerns about research funded through the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE) Directorate. It adds, “In order to address these concerns, NSF must ensure that SBE awards are consistent with NSF’s scientific quality standards and aligned to national interests. The committee recognizes the intrinsic value in SBE sciences and the direct responsiveness of SBE activities to committee priorities, including studies on the effects of youth exposure to media violence and the collection of data for STEM education indicators.”

The bill would provide $17.9 billion overall, which is $250 million, or 1.3 percent, above the FY14 level.
Within that total, Science would receive about $5.2 billion, which is $42 million, or one percent, above the FY14 level.
Aeronautics would be funded at $666 million, which is $100 million, or 17.7 percent, above the FY14 level.
Space Technology would receive $620 million, which is $44 million, or 7.6 percent, above the FY14 enacted level.

Report language accompanying the bill makes a number of recommendations about specific projects and programs within the three NASA directorates. These include language outlining concerns about the proposed Asteroid Redirect Mission; providing direction on NASA education and outreach programs; laying out detailed direction for Planetary Sciences; rejecting NASA’s plan to terminate the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy project (SOFIA); proposing a restructuring of the Aeronautics budget; and requiring NASA to develop a plan to allocate more research funding for the International Space Station to research, not logistical support.

Read More:
FY15 CJS Appropriations Bill Approved by Full Committee (appropriations.house.gov)
Committee Report (appropriations.house.gov)

Lacking the necessary support to pass a bill designed to curb abusive patent practices, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) again postponed markup of a bill (S. 1720) that was scheduled for May 8.

The Committee continues to work on patent legislation, searching for compromise language that would curb abusive practices without harming the ability of patent holders legitimately to enforce their patent rights.  Universities and allied groups continue to stress the importance of balance in any legislation and the need to avoid overly broad provisions that would diminish the value of patents and weaken the nation’s innovative capacity.

Ambassador Patrick Duddy, former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela and current visiting faculty at Fuqua, testified last week before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a hearing entitled, “Assessing Venezuela’s Political Crisis: Human Rights Violations and Beyond.”

Read More:
Duddy Testimony (pdf)
Assessing Venezuela’s Political Crisis (foreign.senate.gov)

The U.S. Senate on Thursday confirmed Ted Mitchell, the chief executive of a nonprofit educational-venture fund and a former president of Occidental College, as the Education Department’s top higher-education official. President Obama nominated Mr. Mitchell for the job in October 2013.

Read More:
Senate Confirms Ted Mitchell (Chronicle of Higher Ed)